Implementation and Long-Term Evaluation of a Hearing Aid Supported Tinnitus Treatment Using Notched Environmental Sounds

Recent work has shown that sharp spectral edges in acoustic stimuli might have advantageous effects in the treatment of tonal tinnitus. In the course of this paper, we evaluate the long-term effects of spectrally notched hearing aids on the subjective tinnitus distress. By merging recent experimental work with a computational tinnitus model, we modified the commercially available behind-the-ear hearing aids so that a frequency band of 0.5 octaves, centered on the patient's individual tinnitus frequency, was blocked out. Those hearing aids employ a steep notch filter that filters environmental sounds to suppress the tinnitus-related changes in neural firing by lateral inhibition. The computational model reveals a renormalization of pathologically increased neural response reliability and synchrony in response to spectrally modified input. The target group, fitted with spectrally notched hearing aids, was matched with a comparable control group, fitted with standard hearing aids of the same type but without a notch filter. We analyze the subjective self-assessment by tinnitus questionnaires, and we monitor the objective distress correlates in auditory evoked response phase data. Both, subjective and objective results show a noticeable trend of a larger therapeutic benefit for notched hearing correction.